The Dos and Don’ts of Setting Boundaries and Expectations in a New Relationship
The number one killer of a new relationship (in my experience) is a miscommunication of boundaries and expectations. Starting a new relationship is a lot of fun, but it’s also the best time to have those awkward conversations that are necessary to make sure the two of you are on the same page. If you get caught up in the lovey-dovey, exhilarating aspects of your new relationship and forget to lay down the foundation for a happy, healthy, respectful relationship, then you’re opening yourself (and your significant other) up to the possibility of falling apart later.
You can avoid all of that by heeding some hard (but unavoidable) relationship advice. Take it from someone who’s gotten distracted by the newness and ended up burned at the end more than once. You have to discuss what you want from the relationship at the start so you can both know whether or not you have lasting potential or if you need to walk away before the relationship implodes.
DO: Figure Out What Your Expectations and Boundaries Are
After you’ve gone on some dates and you start to think about the possibility of the relationship continuing on/becoming exclusive, you need to have a candid conversation with yourself. What do you want from a relationship in general—not just a relationship with this specific person? Are you absolutely ready to embark on an emotionally invested relationship, or are you only interested in casual dating at this moment? What qualities/aspects are the most important to you in a relationship? For example, do you expect doors to be opened or to be exclusive from the get-go? On the flip side, what is not acceptable? (For example, being disrespected in any capacity should be on your “hell no” list.)
Until you’ve clarified these types of things for yourself, hold off on bringing them up in your new relationship. You want to make sure that when you have this conversation, you know exactly what you want to discuss and where you stand so you can communicate as clearly and effectively as possible.
DON’T: Focus on the Inconsequential Things
Okay, it’s super important for you to be specific in the things you want—and if it’s the right relationship, then even small, weird things won’t be a big deal. However, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. For example, it’s very important for your significant other to understand you won’t tolerate cheating of any kind (or that you want an open relationship. Hey, no judgment. You do you.), so you don’t want that to be overshadowed by your preference to go dutch on every bill. Make sure you know what’s really important to you, and let the other stuff slide for a while. You can work on the smaller things once you’ve discussed the big things. It won’t matter that he always opened the car door for you if you date for three years before discovering you have differing opinions about marriage or having kids.
DO: Give Your Partner Time to Figure Out Their Expectations as Well
Before you launch straight into the conversation, bring it up to your new significant other. If you need to have time to think about the above questions, then you should allow them the same opportunity. This ensures that everyone is fully prepared for a serious adult conversation and will know what they want to say and what they want from the relationship beforehand. If you’re both prepared for a serious talk and know where you stand emotionally, then you have a better chance of adequately communicating with each other.
Bonus: by handling your first major discussion in this way, you’re setting an expectation for future serious conversations. It shows that you want to be mature and thoughtful and avoid spur-of-the-moment, potentially emotionally disastrous chit-chats.
DON’T: Bring It Up Randomly
It’s counterproductive to take the time to think things through and then randomly start the conversation. That will throw your new partner off. Instead, ask them when they would like to discuss your expectations and boundaries, so you both will know ahead of time. Even though you might want to have the conversation right away, sometimes you need to wait until you both have the time (and energy) to commit to having a serious conversation. It’s not exactly a conversation you want to have when you both meet for a quick meal during your lunch breaks.
When you’re having serious talks, and especially when you’re setting your boundaries and trying to explain your expectations/wants fully, you don’t want to be rushed.
DO: Listen With an Open Mind
Relationships are a constant give and take. Each conversation you have will require you to listen as much as you talk. The majority of every decision you make as a couple will involve some sort of compromise. You have to respect the needs of your partner in your new relationship, and they should give you the same respect. When you have your conversation about your expectations and boundaries, make sure you listen to what they have to say. Don’t shut down the moment you hear something you don’t like. Listen to them, listen to their reasons, and think about it before you blurt out the first thing you want to say.
If your significant other has some boundaries or expectations that are a hard no for you, like never getting married or wanting an open relationship, then you need to say that. Explain what won’t work for you and why, and be mature about it. This is a big conversation to have, and if the two of you aren’t compatible on the main points, then it could result in a breakup. Hopefully, you can both handle it maturely and without any drama and part on good terms.
In the same breath, however, don’t immediately assume something won’t work out just because it’s not something you’ve ever considered. There’s nothing wrong with saying you need a few days to think something over.
Last modified on April 17th, 2023